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BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The Millennials

BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The MillennialsManila, Philippines--"I'm Martial Law ready." This was one of the Facebook posts that prompted Vincent Tañada to write "Katips: Ang Mga Bagong Katipunero." In a speech he gave right after the curtain call last October 16, Tañada (who also directs the show and is one of the lead actors) confessed that this musical is intended to enlighten those millennials who seem to have been bombarded by "myths" about the state of the country during the Martial Law era.

Katips is a secret group of individuals (men, women, students, religious leaders, and activists) protesting against the cruelties during the dictatorship of then President Ferdinand Marcos. Although the play accounts some actual events during that time in history, the story really unfolds as a tale of two love stories. The first is a story of young lovers, Lara and Greg. Lara is a balikbayan from the United States who was forced to live at the Katips' headquarters after her father's death, while Greg is a student activist from the University of the Philippines. The other pair, Panyong and Alet, is a story of love that has stood hardship and sacrifice. Panyong is a member of the New People's Army (an armed rebel group that usually seeks refuge in the mountains), while Alet is regarded as the "Tandang Sora" of the group.

BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The MillennialsLove stories that transpire during political crises are nothing new in musicals (think "Les Miserables" and "Miss Saigon"), so this direction in the script is not the show's best feature. Nevertheless, this formula still does wonders in this show precisely because the love stories were carefully injected into the story without having to lose its grip of the current atmosphere in which the lovers existed. This theme also paves the way for the show's first memorable moment, which leads to the song "Sa Gitna ng Gulo." Thanks to musical director Pipo Cifra, its tender melody was a much-needed break from all the shouting, protesting, and profanity that transpired in the first hour of the show.

Speaking of the show's score, the only musical number that stays in your head after the performance is "Manhid," again a love song, but sung ridiculously well by Tañada. As a musical theater piece, this production is quite a letdown. Not even its rousing opening number is remembered as the show progresses. And, quite frankly, even its final song number, which is possibly the show's anthem, does not bring forth the same lingering effect as the two love songs.

For me, the show's best accomplishment is the book, particularly its staging of the abduction and torture scenes towards the second half of the show (a collective effort of choreographer Gerald Magallanes, costume designer Emy Tañada, and technical director Art Gabrentina). This part of the story did not really come as a surprise considering these human rights violations were already depicted in popular movies in the past, but still the end result was no less than brilliant. It was stirring, heart-pounding, and hurtful to watch. The audience that afternoon, comprised mostly of students and educators, was halted. That long scene really was the highlight of the show.

BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The MillennialsIn terms of the overall performance, the standout is Adelle Ibarrientos-Lim who plays Alet. In a sea of protesters, she blends well with the rest of the ensemble. As the head of the Katips headquarters, she's the kind and caring woman. When she is provoked, she's firm and aggressive. As an actor, Ibarrientos-Lim is like a chameleon. She rides along with her character's emotional journey with ease and sincerity. On the other hand, Kierwin Larena (Kevin Posadas* is his alternate) and Maya Encila, as young lovers Greg and Lara, respectively, have palpable chemistry, but as actors they each need to embrace the growth of their characters towards the end of the show.

As an actor and singer, Tañada, who plays Panyong, is occasionally over-the-top. But his gift as storyteller and librettist is undeniable. In this particular play, aside from the retelling of the horrors experienced by the activists during Martial Law, he efficiently weaves together interesting characters and points of view. For instance, the short but powerful confrontation scene between Lara and Alet highlights two different generations of women at that time--Alet is a woman who serves her countrymen by opening her home to wounded activists, while Lara is a girl who studied abroad and excels in the performing arts. Tañada tells, and directs, the scene not for the audience to take sides, but to foster open-mindedness and understanding. Perhaps, this is his way to reach out to his millennial audience: that pursuing one's dream or excelling in one's craft can go hand in hand with being kind and compassionate to others.

BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The MillennialsWhat is quite ironic is that, after watching the show, you are immediately reminded that the Philippines is still living under a democracy; that a show like this can be staged without having to worry about getting into some sort of trouble with the state. During the time of Martial Law, there have been accounts of lives that were compromised because of these acts.

Philippine Stagers Foundation, by boldly producing this musical, seems to be grounded on this very same belief: that art can be an avenue to communicate and educate. In protesting against "historical revisionism," this group of Filipino artists finds release and refuge in their chosen art form, which is theater. It takes courage to tell these stories again, given the current political scenario in the country. Their immense courage as artists and storytellers is noteworthy, and it's what modern-day heroes are made of.

"Katips: Ang Mga Bagong Katipunero" plays in schools, malls, and public spaces across the Philippines until the first quarter of 2017. Check out its schedule of performances at Facebook.com/Philstagers.

BWW Review: Philstagers' KATIPS is a Must Watch For The Millennials

*Kevin Posadas plays Greg in the photos above; photos by Oliver Oliveros.


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From This Author Jude Buot